New Report Reveals America Will Need Foreign Labor to Fill STEM Jobs

Posted By Terri Williams on June 1, 2016 at 12:02 pm
New Report Reveals America Will Need Foreign Labor to Fill STEM Jobs

Since 1903, the Statue of Liberty has welcomed immigrants with the sonnet, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”  However, in the 21st century, that phrase could just as well be replaced with “Give me your scientists, your engineers, your computer programmers yearning to write code.”

As America – and the rest of the world – barrels toward a more STEM-focused workforce, there are not enough U.S. citizens to meet the country’s demand.

According to the “2016 STEM U.S. News/Raytheon Index,” a report that measures STEM-related economic and education activity in the U.S.:

  • Between 2014-2015, there were 30,835 additional STEM graduates compared to 230,246 additional STEM jobs
  • STEM degrees have increased by 5%; STEM graduate degrees have increased by 6%
  • Since 2000, STEM jobs have increased by 28% compared to 6% for all U.S. jobs

For the past decade, the public has been inundated with articles, reports, surveys, and studies – dire warnings regarding the importance of funneling more students into science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The results are both encouraging and disheartening. The good news is that U.S. colleges are producing more STEM grads, but a lot of them happen to be foreign students who are only here on a temporary visa. The number of grads who have a green card or a U.S. passport has declined, while the number of those with a temporary visa has increased by 35%. And these huddled masses are more likely to leave the land of opportunity after they graduate.

U.S. STEM talent pool still lacking, especially in diversity

The U.S. is still not producing enough “home grown” STEM talent to fill its many open positions. And success rates vary among racial and gender lines.

For example, in the past five years:

  • The number of white students earning a STEM degree has increased by 15%
  • The number of black students earning a STEM degree has decreased by 15%

And from 2014-2015:

  • The number of Hispanic students earning a STEM associate degree increased by 9%; the number earning a STEM bachelor’s degree increased by 13%; the number earning a STEM graduate degree increased by 8%

So what’s the gender composition of STEM degrees?

  • Associate degrees: 8% male compared to 3% female
  • Bachelor’s degrees: 13% male compared to 8% female
  • Master’s degrees: 11% male compared to 6% female

Reskilling current workers

At this rate, the country is facing a dearth of STEM talent, and many of the proposed solutions focus on getting young students interested in STEM at an early age. However, this approach takes years – and assumes that students won’t jump ship along the way in favor of a non-STEM career.

However, P.K. Agarwal, Regional Dean and CEO of Northeastern University-Silicon Valley, proposes another solution. “A proven approach in meeting the high demand for STEM grads is to look at the transferrable skills and critical thinking of our current non-STEM trained citizenry,” says Agarwal.  “By identifying people from diverse backgrounds who want to be re-skilled for high-demand, high-worth tech jobs and matching them with the coursework they need to obtain a STEM degree, we can more fully meet the demands of technology in the short term.”

For example, Agarwal says colleges could offer STEM “bridge courses” toward a graduate STEM degree to those from non-STEM bachelor’s degree backgrounds.

“In addition, by partnering with technology corporations, educational institutions are creating curricula that meet the timely demands of cutting-edge STEM jobs.” According to Agarwal, the beauty of these courses is that they are structured to be “interactive, conversational and participatory, supplemented by co-ops and internships that provide alternative means for young people and career-changers to branch into new STEM career paths.” And Agarwal concludes that these types of transition programs can meet the dual goals of achieving diversity in STEM professions while also helping the country to remain competitive.

Terri Williams
Terri Williams graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her education, career, and business articles have been featured on Yahoo! Education, U.S. News & World Report, The Houston Chronicle, and in the print edition of USA Today Special Edition. Terri is also a contributing author to "A Practical Guide to Digital Journalism Ethics," a book published by the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University Chicago.

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